Search engine experts are exasperated by the European Commission's pending witchhunt of Google for alleged anticompetitive behavior.
While these folks may question the scrutiny, they need to be reminded of something Google discovered when the complaints came to light last February: Microsoft may be behind it. I'll circle back later.
The complaint is basically that Google is favoring its product search and other Web services in Google.com search results over those of smaller shopping Websites such as Foundem, Ciao and eJustice. Also at issue is whether Google holds advertisers hostage.
As you'd imagine, those who know Google, Bing and Yahoo search engines use hundreds of signals for the math-based algorithm believe the plaintiffs' claims are absurd. Sullivan wrote:
"A search engine's job is to point you to destination sites that have the information you are seeking, not to send you to other search engines. Getting upset that Google doesn't point to other search engines is like getting upset that The New York Times doesn't simply have headlines followed by a single paragraph of text that says, 'read about this story in The Wall Street Journal.'"
He added that as search technology had improved, it has made more sense for search engines such as Google, Bing or Yahoo to create vertical search engines and blending them into regular search results. All to boost the user experience, and ad profits, of course.
Frank Reed on Marketing Pilgrim was similarly frustrated by the investigation of Google:
"My question is at what point is it their responsibility to make everyone happy? I suspect that they don't need to manipulate things to protect their business considering their competition is so inferior in most cases that even if people were to leave Google 'on principle' they would come crawling back because it works."
"I am not advocating that Google gets free reign and gets to run everyone into the ground. All I am asking for people to stop whining. If you are getting beat then you either need to settle for your part of the market that likes you and uses your service or just get out."
I appreciate their angst, but Sullivan and Reed need to remember that this is all being brought to bear by Microsoft.
Google said Ejustice and Foundem, a member of an organization called ICOMP funded partly by Microsoft to lobby against Google in Europe.
Microsoft acquired Ciao, a long-time AdSense partner of Google's, in 2008 and renamed it Ciao from Bing. Shortly after the buy, Google said it began receiving complaints about its standard terms and conditions.
Google's implication is that Microsoft is behind the complaints.
The Commission's witchhunt, if that is what it is, is the byproduct of slick brinksmanship between Microsoft and Google, not unlike the way Novell and myriad others fed the Commission information about Microsoft's wrongdoings overseas.
As Google pointed out itself, it's massive size in search has made it an attractive target. Microsoft is so far behind Google in search that it's Bing body blows fall weakly on Google's rock-hard search and ad abs.
Microsoft may not be able to compete squarely, but it can certainly engage in legal subterfuge, backing smaller companies to aid its cause.
In that respect, if the Commission prosecutes Google, everyone wins. Except Google.
Smart strategy. Will it work? We'll see in 2011 as the Commissions pursues its witchhunt.